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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Flag of our Union
Vol. 24, No. 21 (May 22, 1869)
pp. 332-333.

. . . .

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      "I'll take good care of the boy, never fear," said Captain Scoon to my anxious mother, at a private interview which she had sought with him the day before we were to sail, "and l'arn him sailorship and navigation too. I'll guarantee that when you see him again, he'll be jist as good a navigator as – I am." A state or things which, in prospect, was highly satisfactory to his interlocutor, inasmuch as she believed him to be a very Colossus of knowledge in that department; the embodiment of all that was then known or could be known of that useful and beautiful science.

      An amphibious kind of nondescript, a strange compromise of rural homespun and tarry duck, was Captain Hiram Scoon of the brig Renown, bound to Rio Janeiro, "or a market." I suppose, from what I afterwards learned, this meant that he was bound to Rio Janeiro, if he could find it. A farmer and a mariner by turns, alternately ploughing the soil and the sea, he belonged to the class so happily delineated by Cooper in the character of the Vineyarder, Captain Jason Daggett; bearing some such relation to the genuine in-and-in seaman, as the volunteer patriot, temporarily under arms, does to the more automaton-like, thoroughly drilled soldier of the regular army. He was sufficiently at home on board a vessel, and could handle one tolerably well, but would have surrendered at the first broadside from Hamilton Moore's catechism. He could find the sea-face of a continent, or even a large island, taking care to be on the safe side, not to find it before he began to look for it; yet he was hardly the man to be selected for the command or an expedition to survey Polynesian archipelagoes. Indeed, report says that on a previous voyage he had brought up at Turk's Island, his original destination having been Martinique; but as he had disposed of his "notions," and, taking in a cargo of salt, had made a profitable cruise of it, this little deviation was of no great importance. He had the most perfect confidence in his own calculations, however; and as he always stoutly insisted that he went where Martinique was, and it wasn't there, it is to be presumed that island had temporarily struck adrift from its moorings.

      I knew little of all this at the time of which I am writing. I was as eager as any Federal office-seeker now buzzing in the great quadrennial swarm, to secure the position of steward and cabin-boy on board the Renown; and was sure that a glorious career had opened before me when I proudly flourished my autograph on her shipping-papere. In this position, as I then supposed, I should have the finest possible opportunity to acquire a knowledge of my profession on the first voyage; for I was to be near the captain's person, a sort of non-commissioned staff officer, as it were, and would have the benefit of his personal tuition.

      I have said that I flourished my name on the brig's shipping-papers. I did so, and left it there, "Leander Sherman." It was folded inside the papers, and I lost it. I was addressed as "Boy," from that day forth, by all on hoard, even to Miss Adeline, of whom more anon. I had neither Christian name nor patronymic. I might have been twin-brother to the anchor-buoy, for our names were pronounced exactly alike. As I was nearly nineteen, and five feet nine, I thought the title of "Boy" was both too young and too short to suit my idea of the fitness of things.

      Of course I was of little use, either to myself or to any one else for the first two days. I was in that state which may be described as physically volcanic, and mentally maudlin. I neither know nor cared what my name was, then, or whether I had any at all; wondered whether I had ever been born, and if so, for what useful purpose. The captain was not unkind to me during this terrible probation, except that he aggravated me to the verge of insanity by stamping in and out of my little dormitory so many times on his provokingly stout sea-legs.

      On the third day I emerged from my retirement a new man, or rather "boy." I no longer suffered, except from ravenous hunger; and having appeased this with at least double rations, I found my way on deck. The weather had moderated, and the brig was bowling gently along before a fair breeze. The captain was ready, as it appeared, to redeem the promise which he had made to my mother.

      "Well, Boy," was his first salutation, "feel better to-day, eh?"

      "Yes sir," I answered cheerfully.

      "I told your mother I'd l'arn you sailorship and navigation," said he, conscientiously. "Guess you are well enough now to take your first lesson."

      I supposed, of course, that he would begin with the simplest rudiments; that his first questions would be similar to those in our Primary Arithmetic at school, "How many thumbs have you on the right hand? on the left? on both together?" But after cogitating a moment, and glancing about as if undecided where to commence, an idea seemed to strike him. He made a bold flight over all the rudiments, and plunged in medias res at the outset.

      "Boy," said he, with his most sagacious look, picking up it remnant of rope which lay at hand, "can you make a Matthew Walker knot?"

      "No sir, I can not," I answered, waggishly.

      "Now look at me," he said, unlaying the strands with much professional pride. "There's three strands to this rope."

      There was no disputing this statement.

      "Now I take this first one and pass it round – so – and poke it right up through its own bight. Then I take the second one and – "

      "Father!" called a musical voice from the door of the companionway.

      I turned my head, and glanced in the direction of the sound. "I would like to speak to you a moment below," it continued.

      The apparition vanished, and the captain, dropping the rope's end and my lesson, rushed after it. I stood gazing in an imbecile way at the door through which they had disappeared. I was oblivious of all knots and strands. Had there been a thousand of them to be learned, named for all the numerous branches of the Walker family, it was all the same to me.

      "Boy!" he hailed presently, in a stentorian voice.

      I hastened below, in answer to the summons.

      "Here, come in here! I've got to work up my longitude, and Adeline, here, wants some help to stow her traps. You must lend her a hand."

      "Traps!" I glanced fearfully into the little stateroom, among the chaos of trunks, boxes and feminine knickknacks. I saw no traps except Adeline herself, the most bewitching little trap that was ever sat to ensnare a susceptible youth of nineteen. I was caught fast at the first snap.

      "Boy," she said, with a smile that set the teeth of the trap more firmly, "my things are all tumbled about in confusion, and I want to arrange them better, now, while the old vessel is a little more quiet than she has been. Father is busy, but he thinks you will be willing to 'lend me a hand,' as he calls it."

      Lend her a hand, indeed! I wanted to say that I would give her one for life, with my heart in it, premature as such a reply would have been at that time. For Adeline Scoon was the most sparkling little brunette that – well, I had never seen any one like her before, nor have I since. But the idea of her calling me "Boy!" It soon occurred to me, however, that she could hardly do otherwise, under the circumstances. But I felt as foolishly juvenile at the moment, as ever did Copperfield under the gaze of the respectable serving-man, Littimer.

      There is no diagram in Euclid that represents anything like the shape of that little room. Not the least remarkable of its peculiarities was that it was necessary to shut the little sliding-door before the boxes could he moved. Then it was too dark to work very fast, for we had only the subdued light which came down through a small glass bull's-eye in the deck. Besides, we had so many little differences of opinion about the stowage, that, at the end of half an hour, things looked as hopelessly entangled as did the strands of the Matthew Walker. It was now the captain's turn to retaliate for the interruption of his lesson in seamanship.

      "Come, Boy, most got through there?" he called.

      "O dear, father!" said Adeline, "we haven't got things arranged yet."

      "Well, you must finish another time. My duty must be attended to. Boy, do you know anything at all about navigation?"

      "No sir."

      "Now listen to me."

      He pulled out from the table-drawer an old, greasy-covered manuscript book, and spread it out before him. Holding up a finger to enjoin strict attention he read from the first page.

      "Journal-of-a, v'y'ge-towards-Martinique-in-the-good-brig-Dianny-Hiram Scoon Master." The last words quickly, and with peculiar unction. "Now come and look at it yourself. Some time when you've l'arnt more, I'll let you take it and read it through."

      "Thank you, sir."

      I looked over his shoulder and read:

      "Journal Of A Vyge towards Marteneek in the Good Brigg Diana Hiram Scoon master And god speed the Good Brigg to the Port Of Destinashon."

      "D'ye understand all that?" he asked.

      "Yes sir." But Adeline's twinkling eye caught mine just then, as she stood in the door of her room, and I nearly choked in the effort to preserve a respectful exterior.

      "That will do now," said the captain, closing the book. "You must go about your work as steward."

      I wan only too glad to escape his presence, that I might give vent to my mirth. And this was my first lesson in navigation.

      As for the knot, it was never completed, and I have serious doubts whether the captain could have finished it himself. I made rapid progress in both departments of knowledge, however, through the kind assistance of the mate, who was an intelligent seaman, and well versed in navigation. But he had not the same confidence in his own calculations that Captain Scoon had. The captain thought himself the more competent of the two to shape the course of the vessel, and seldom consulted Mr. Brock, except at the times when lunar observations were to be taken. He took great credit to himself for my proficiency, and I believe he honestly thought that my progress was due to his exertions as an instructor.

      It was wonderful how many hours I spent in the after-cabin, practising what the mate had taught me. My hours of study were, for the most part chosen while the captain was either on deck or taking his afternoon nap. It must be admitted that the circumstances were unfavorable for concentration of thought. A sweat voice, opposite, often rippled it low laughter at my stupid figures, and the prettiest little foot in the world now and then twinkled at me under the table. At such times Adeline seemed to me to be electrically charged with beauty, and to radiate it from every salient point of her petite figure. But I would not permit this to be any drawback to my progress; I determined that it should have a contrary effect. I reflected that the girl was only seventeen, and evidently liked me well enough. There was no saying what changes a few years might produce; and the thought of her inspired me with ambition to rise in my profession.

      I stood watch with Mr. Brock, as a matter of choice, and, as often as my cabin duties would admit, I placed myself under his orders to learn those of a sailor.

      It was not many days ere the captain made another dash at me in this department. As I have before intimated, he was by no means partial to the inductive system in teaching. His style was more like the new patent method of teaching languages, which is warranted to make a polyglot of any man, woman or child, in six lessons.

      "Boy," said he, stopping me abruptly as I was going aft with the dinner, "can you strap a b'oy?"

      "Yes sir," I answered, readily. "I learned that at school."

      So I had; in the passive voice, though. I knew well enough what he meant; for strapping a buoy was an operation looked upon as the very chef doeuvre of seamanship in the olden time.

      "Larned it in school!" he exclaimed. "Who'd ye go to school to?"

      "Old Nathan Potts, sir," I answered, promptly.

      "Was he a sailor?"

      "Not that I know of, sir; but he could strap a boy, or half a dozen boys, if needed, in the morning, before he began his regular day's work."

      The captain turned away, mystified, and I left him to study upon it. He must have received light from within; for when I called him down to dinner, a few minutes later, he said to me, gravely:

      "Them aint the kind of b'oys I meant. You go and study that one that's lashed up on the bows."

      But as he turned in, after diner, I employed myself much as usual. And I must say that I think a girl, such a one as his daughter, alternated with navigation, a much more interesting study than a boy – whether spelled with a tripthong or a dipthong.

      Mr. Brock had taught me so much of the use of the quadrant, that when the sun and moon again "came on distance," I was entrusted with the duty of observing the moon's altitude, while the captain took that of the sun, and the mate performed the more delicate operation of sweeping for the angular distance. The captain was profuse in his cautions to me about screwing the moon down.

      "Mind, now, Boy, you don't get her two fathoms under water," he said to me, over and over again; while the mate rolled his huge quid in keen enjoyment of the fun, and Adeline sparkled with merriment as she stood ready with slate and pencil to note down the results in the prettiest of little delicate figures. I succeeded, however, in "getting the moon" without submerging her, and the captain was delighted at my improvement in knowledge, for which be took all the credit to himself,

      "I promised your mother, Boy," he said, "and now you see I'm making my promise good. Bring me up my pitomy off the transom, and then come here. I want to larn ye something."

      His "pitomy," as he called it, was Bowditch's Navigator, or, as it is more commonly called by seamen, "Epitome." I brought the book on deck.

      "Now, Boy, do you know what hor'zont'l perlax means?"

      "No sir; I don't think I understand it clearly."

      "I'll tell ye, then, 'cause ye know, I promised y'er mother. It's figgers to work a lunar with."

      "Yes sir," said I. "I knew that before. But how is it found?"

      "Found! you find it in the allm'nick, to be sure. Don't you, Mr. Brock?"

      "Yea sir, I know it; but that don't tell us what it means, or who put it there."

      "O, that's none o' my business, nor yours either."

      I was satisfied that Captain Scoon's idea of the thing was as clear as mud. He could work a pair of oxen in yoke much better than he could a lunar observation. He was obliged to trust his mate for that. But he had heard the term "horizontal parallax" used, and I have no doubt he really thought he had imparted valuable scientific knowledge to me, at this lesson. It might have been a vertical battle-axe, for anything that he really understood about the matter.

      After we creased the equator, we began to experience a powerful easterly current, which grew stronger and stronger each day, as we ran up our latitude. it was a great mystery to the captain, who did not remember ever having experienced or heard of it before, in this part of the ocean. He know just enough of figures to fudge out his position by chronometer, and was jealous of interference by any one. For this reason, Mr. Brock troubled himself but little about the matter, though, as he transcribed the longitude from the slate into his logbook every night, he had twice remarked that "we must have a horse of a current sweeping us to windward." The brig was steered more off, to counteract this, and thus we were, in reality, rapidly approaching the Brazilian coast, though the captain's reckoning indicated that we were drawing off shore.

      We were running quietly along, one dark night, with the southeast trades nearly abeam, and everything drawing handsomely. I came on deck as usual when the mate's watch was called, and went forward. I noticed that the mate, after walking the deck a few minutes, looked uneasily over the side, then came forward and asked the lookout man if he saw anything ahead.

      "The water appears to have changed color," he said, "and it seems uncommonly smooth. There can't be any land near us, unless we have made a new discovery. Boy, go down into my room and bring me up the hand-lead."

      I hastened to obey the order; but while I was below in search of it, the brig brought up all standing, with such force as to throw me off my feet. Before I regained my perpendicular, the captain rushed past me; and jumped on deck in his night-dress. I knew the vessel must be ashore, but I secured the hand-lead and carried it on deck; though I might have left it where I found it, for any good it was to us. I was thinking all the time of Adeline, and felt much more anxious for her safety than my own. The brig continued to strike and thump heavily, and a trial of the pumps soon convinced us that the Renown's cruise was up. She was a very old vessel, and soon bilged after striking, though it was not probable she would go to pieces for some time to come.

      "We must get ready to abandon her," said Captain Scoon. "But where can we be, Mr Brock? There's no islands laid down here, and by our reckoning, we are all of four degrees from the coast."

      A sudden thought seemed to strike the mate.

      "Come here, said he, as he rushed below. And the captain followed him. "Where's your slate? Let me look at your polar distance."

      The slate was produced, and Mr. Brock's eye rapidly scanned the labyrinth of figures which swarmed all over it. Putting his finger on those indicating the polar distance of the sun:

      "Here's the difficulty, just as I thought, Captain Scoon. The sun crossed the line ten days ago! It's the broadside of South America that has brought us up, and we are hard and fast in the Bight of Brazil!"

      The nature of the careless blunder which had proved the loss of the brig is, perhaps, of little interest to the general reader, but will be readily understood by the practical navigator. The captain had overlooked the fact that the sun had passed the equinox, and had neglected to make the proper changes in his corrections. The error is but small for the first day or two, but is cumulative, and runs up very rapidly, like the horse shoe nails in geometrical progression. We were at that moment more than two hundred miles from our supposed position!

      "But I altered my figgers when we crossed the line," said the captain. "I subtracted instead of addin'."

      "I know it," returned Mr. Brock. "You corrected for the change of latitude, but not for the change of the sun's declination."

      "I see, I see! but it's too late! Well, If we are [page 333] really ashore in the Brazils, our lives are safe, for we can reach the shore in a boat. Adeline!"

      "Here, father!" she answered, coming out of her room and laying her little hands on his rough cheeks. "Is the brig lost, father?"

      "Yes, I fear she is, my dear; but she will hold together till morning. You muet get ready to leave the vessel. All gone! Every dollar that I owned is under my feet, and nothing insured!"

      "Never mind, father; say no more about that now. Only tell me what I had better do, and let us help each other to get ready." For now that he was assured of his own safety, and still more, of his daughter's, he seemed disposed to dwell upon his pecuniary loss.

      I went on deck with the mate, to assist in getting the long-boat afloat, and left them thus; the young girl, like his good angel as she was, soothing and rousing him from his terrible depression of spirits.

      We hung by the wreck, which continued thumping smartly, till daylight broke, and revealed the coast, a few miles distant. On our way to the shore, we encountered numerous catamarans, or triangular rafts, putting off; and following the directions of these Portuguese raftsmen, we found a favorable spot for landing the boat.

      We, who had nothing to lose, regained all our cheerfulness as soon as we were safe on shore; but it was otherwise with poor Captain Scoon.

      "It's all gone, Adeline, all my hard arnings!" he moaned. "It was for your sake, too, that I started on this v'yge!"

      "Never mind me, father," she would answer, cheerfully. "Let's get home again as soon as we can, and begin the world anew. I can help you now."

      With the assistance of Portuguese guides, we all made our way overland to Pernambuco, where our consul was ready to assist us. The captain and his daughter found an opportunity, a few days afterwards, to secure a passage home, and I parted from the old man with real emotion, for I could not help feeling deep sympathy for his misfortunes. He had never been unkind to me while I was under his command, and I am satisfied that he meant well by me. But my own plans in life had undergone a change. I had been offered a situation in the employ of an English merchant at Pernambuco, and decided to give up the sea as a profession.

      As for my feelings towards the daughter, the reader already understands them. I was much in her society during the time she remained on shore. She was full of solicitude for her father, and seemed broken-hearted from his losses. He had, it seems, raised all the money he could by mortgaging his little farm, that be might buy largely into the brig, had invested his last dollar, and was now literally penniless, at fifty-five! He was a widower, and Adeline was the only human being who held a claim on him. It was for her sake, she knew, that he had striven for wealth, and by imprudently venturing all on a single hazard, had beggared her and himself too. She talked to me freely of these matters, for we had become very confidential in our intercourse; but the declaration of my feelings towards herself, which I was twenty times tempted to make, was as often withheld. I had nothing to offer her but my boyish love, sincere and respectful though it was; and I reflected that at our ages, it was imprudent to bind either her or myself by hasty promises. Wonderfully magnanimous and considerate, the reader will think, for a youth of nineteen! Well, I hope I was. At any rate, I am candid with him or her, if I was not so with Adeline. Of course I wished I had the wealth of the Indies to lay at her feet, and all that sort of thing; but as I hadn't anything of the kind, I held my peace. Tearful faces on both sides, and a warm pressure of the dear little hand, as warmly returned, marked our parting interview on board the homeward-bound vessel, but no word of love was spoken.

      I passed three years in Brazil, during which time Providence smiled upon me, even beyond my wildest expectations. My English employer and I were mutually pleased with each other; he paid we liberally, and put me in a way to make money by advising me how to invest my savings. I speculated in sugar, tapioca and caontchouc; lived temperately and prudently; and in three years from the date of my shipwreck in the Renown, I found myself in possession, not of the wealth of the Indies, but of a snug, round sum, sufficient to start me in a good business at home, for which my yearning now became a ruling passion.

      I settled up my affairs, and, resisting all the solicitations of my friend and benefactor to remain and reside permanently in Brazil, I secured a passage for my own country. I made him no promises as to when I might return, if at all; it depended upon circumstances.

      Daring all this time, I had heard nothing about her whom I loved, except what was contained in my mother's letters. She wrote soon after their return home that she heard that Miss Scoon had secured a place as teacher at a school, in a small village a few miles from the seaport whence we had sailed. But her father, as I learned from subsequent letters, never rallied from the misfortune which had stripped him of his all; and within a few mouths Hiram Scoon was gathered to his forefathers, leaving the young girl alone in the world. She still continued to teach the school, up to the time my mother last heard from her. I had sometime thought of writing a declaration of my feelings to her, but as often abandoned the idea, resolving to see her in person.

      I tried now to imagine how Adeline would look and act in the character of country sohoolma'am, and wondered whether she had any tact for teaching. She would not be likely to inherit much, at least, from her father, I thought. I wondered, then, whether she would be likely to care anything about me, or whether she might not be already married, or engaged to another. But I would see her, at all events, if I did so only as an old friend and shipmate. I had made my arrangements for coming home rather suddenly, and had written nothing of my intentions, even to my mother. The surprise would be complete.

      It was on the afternoon of a fine summer day that, after having driven my dear mother nearly insane with surprise and joy, I took the road to the village where I was told Miss Scoon still taught the school, and "boarded round" I easily found the little schoolhouse; and as I approached it, a merry party of boys and girls came trooping out, for I had arrived most opportunely, just at the hour of dismissal. The children stared at me, and turned to look back at "the stranger." One saucy boy asked me "if I wanted to go to school to Miss Scoon?"

      "Yes," said I," of course I do."

      "If she gets ye, she'll make ye toe the mark!" roared another. And I felt that I was fairly hit, but was glad to learn that Adeline had so good a reputation as a disciplinarian.

      I peeped in at the door, which stood ajar, and had a fair view of my little teacher before I was observed. She was taking her hat and shawl from the hooks, and held the door-key between her pearly teeth. She was the same Adeline yet; a little more developed, and, if possible, more piquante and attractive at twenty than at seventeen. I fancied, as she turned towards me, that her face looked a little worn, as well it might.

      "Do you teach navigation here?" I asked, abruptly, as I stepped into the room.

      "Sir!" she answered, as the door-key dropped to the floor, and her eyes flashed with spirit at what she thought an impertinent question from an utter stranger. Then, recognizing my laugh, her own bewitching smile came back, as she let fall her shawl and hat, and rushed to meet my outstretched hand.


      I no longer felt juvenile or foolish. It was the very name by which I had hoped she would address me. A shadow swept over her face, and I even thought I saw a tear. Old recollections had crowded upon her at my sudden appearance, and my first question, which was, perhaps, an unfortunate one. But this feeling was momentary. It was but lightly touching a wound almost healed; and the old gladness, tempered, as I thought, by the slightest shade of embarrassment, again came uppermost.

      "And so, truant Boy," she said, "you thought it about time to come home and see your mother, did you?"

      "And why not to see you, Adeline?" I answered, still detaining her hand. "Would you feel hurt, if I were to say that I have come home to tell you that you are even dearer to me than my mother, or than all the world besides?"

      The hand trembled a little in my grasp.

      "I ought to feel hurt that you have taken so long a time to find out all this. Say, naughty Boy, why didn't you tell me this three years ago?"

      "Do you wish that I had, Adeline?"

      "No," she answered. "I don't think I do wish so, now – but I did then."

      My heart bounded at this confession that she had loved me all those long years.

      "Shall I make up for the lost time now, dear?"

      The bright face, full of trust, was upturned inquiringly. The situation was so favorable for making use of an ad captandem argument in the form of – well, I am not going to say what I did, for I didn't mean to tell as much as I have told already.

      That our conference was an important one in its results, may be inferred from the fact that a meeting of the prudential committee was convened the next day, at very short notice, to appoint a new teacher for the district school, vice Miss Adeline Scoon, resigned; and that, within two days afterwards, I overheard the saucy boy remark, as he pointed me out to his comrades, that "that was the stranger that coaxed away our schoolma'am."

      I write this, after the lapse of many years, with dear Adeline sitting opposite me at the table, and laughing at my blunders, as she was wont to do in the narrow cabin of the old Renown. I insist that my little matron is as beautiful now as then; and she still calls me "Boy" – sometimes "Old Boy," by way of distinction, for younger boys – and girls, too – shed light and joy in our household. She declares that I have told a ridiculous no-such-thing about her dropping the schoolhouse key from her mouth when I asked her if she taught navigation; but she knows better – and, reader, so do I.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Lessons in Navigation.
Publication: Flag of our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 21 (May 22, 1869)
Pages: 332-333